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The Cutting Room Floor: Griselbanned?

“The Cutting Room Floor: Griselbanned?”

We’ve seen it before.

We’re seeing it again.

GriselbrandThat’s right Legacy players, drawing handfuls of cards in Legacy hasn’t been this easy in years. If you played competitive Magic back in the mid-nineties like I did, then you would definitely not forget Necropotence, the single most powerful card-drawing engine in the history of the game. Then we had Yawgmoth’s Bargain which yet again allowed for us to trade life points in for cards. What do both of these have in common? They’re currently axed in Legacy, for one. But what I’m talking about is similar to the point I just made: trading life points for cards. This has become one of the most dangerous intricacies involved when Wizards decides to print a card that features such a characteristic largely because of the stigma associated with a card’s potential power-level.

And here we are with an actual creature that draws cards, gains life, and draws more cards. Sure, from a functional standpoint Griselbrand acts and performs much like a Yawgmoth’s Bargain at seven-card blocks. But with time progressing and developers exploiting its unique power, Griselbrand is starting to resemble the actual ability of another card that most people have forgotten about because of obscurity or age, and that’s Lich.


That’s right. Griselbrand’s ability to recover lost life and effectively turn it into more cards is similar to that of the treacherous Lich, an ancient enchantment by Magic’s standards that draws you cards for each point of life you would gain. I understand the obvious dissimilarities between the two and I’m not comparing them as though they were on the battlefield together; I’m simply comparing what they offer ability-wise here and I’m honestly beginning to see that Griselbrand is almost like a Yawgmoth’s Bargain with the “good” half of Lich combined – except you don’t lose the game when it leaves play and your life total doesn’t go to zero when it enters the battlefield.

There are few permanents that enable you to draw (more) cards in exchange for life gain, and for all intents and purposes Griselbrand is one of them.

[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]

Sure, Show and Tell variants still try and abuse its power to the fullest extent, but what about the graveyard? Let’s take Jacob Kory’s deck for instance that he just recently brought on over to the Star City Open with a Finals berth just for good measure. Look at that list and locate the one card that stands out more than the rest.

That’s right it’s the Children of Korlis. With much credit to the guys over at The Source for developing this monstrosity, I think Children of Korlis is actually what pushes this deck over the top. Obviously, Griselbrand is the prime catalyst and engine that is drawing cards in and of itself, but this is clearly the deck that abuses Griselbrand better than any other deck has in the format up until this point. Why? Easy: it’s a creature and can be cheated onto the battlefield easier than any other permanent in the game whether it’s from your hand or graveyard. The Children just allow you to recover your lost life from whatever you’ve lost the turn you use it, which in turn means more cards from Griselbrand.

The omnipresence of Griselbrand in Legacy at the moment is a clear indicator that people haven’t given up on it as some sort of “fad” or card that will diminish in competitive play because it was some sort of “flash-in-the-pan,” cool new creature that people got overly hyped up over. No, this guy is the real deal and few players are capable of surviving the game, let alone a turn, when it enters the battlefield. In this particular list the goal is plainly obvious: to power out a Griselbrand from the graveyard as soon as possible and reanimate it. Only thing is, we’re not simply reanimating it using traditional cards like Exhume or Animate Dead. Instead the deck uses oldies like Shallow Grave and Goryo’s Vengeance to produce a hasty Griselbrand, the ability to effectively draw fourteen cards, swing, and then draw another seven for a grand total of twenty-one cards from your library.

Enter the Children, who then gain you the life you’ve lost as payment for Griselbrand’s activated ability and you’re all but capable of drawing out your deck, which seems good to me.

Shallow Grave

Images from the past of casting this card on a Sutured Ghoul and exiling Polar Krakens gives me chills just thinking about it. I know first-hand competitively the raw power of this card and it’s no surprise it’s now eclipsing the twenty-dollar mark. At two mana and instant-speed, you’re basically putting a better Yawgmoth’s Bargain into play that not only draws you cards but deals damage to your opponent in the process. Taking that into account and the extra added bonus of drawing your deck after the fact makes people take a second look at Griselbrand and realize just how powerful it really is, which is to say extremely powerful. What I do like best about it is the ability you have to dodge certain kinds of targeted hate like Deathrite Shaman and Surgical Extraction so you can get the big guy into play and draw cards.

That to me seems infinitely better than waiting a turn to bring something into play with an Exhume (that benefits your opponent, as well) or an Animate Dead (which as an enchantment adds some layer of frailty to the reanimation process). Shallow Grave and Vengeance just plain seal the deal, and if Griselbrand isn’t getting it done then you can bet an Emrakul will.

Sure, there are plenty of ways to reanimate creatures in Legacy. But that’s the beauty of the format where cards like this only get more powerful as time goes on. It’s just another shining example of the natural progression of Eternal Magic, folks. Older cards will continue to be on the radar of people trying to exploit newer cards’ abilities. And if they somehow find a way to break them, those older cards will skyrocket in value pending a great finish in a larger event. Similarly, those older cards gain value by default when newer cards are printed. Shallow Grave is a card that was printed a long time ago when it was cool to bring something like a Lord of the Pit back onto the battlefield for some quick damage.

Now it’s being used to deal the same amount of damage a Lord of the Pit would, gaining you life and twenty-plus cards in the process. I’d say that makes it pretty good.

Before pointing the finger at Griselbrand as being the catalyst here for incredibly broken plays, I think we’d better settle down and understand that it’s not just Griselbrand that should be getting the heat for all of this “ban-hammer” attention. If we want to be fair about the whole situation then we had better pay attention to the fact that there are other cards that are allowing people to cheat something like Griselbrand onto the battlefield, which as I mentioned is much easier to do than an enchantment. Show and Tell can vomit basically anything in your hand onto the battlefield sans a planeswalker, so there’s no denying that’s obviously public enemy number one here.

But what about the card that makes something like this particular deck click?


That’s really the one card that drives the consistency of this deck through the roof. Without it, Reanimator decks become mediocre at best and rely on the strengths of their draws or something like Buried Alive to be effective. Entomb is far more powerful than people give it credit for in that it does something explicitly powerful instantly at one mana and doesn’t necessitate having to have a creature in your hand to work. This also inherently frees up design space in decks that want to abuse it. Just look at how many Griselbrands are in the list above: two, and that’s it. By playing Entomb, you’re effectively able to eschew running multiple copies of Griselbrand to avoid actually drawing into multiples and instead giving you more options with spells that will allow you to bring a binned one back from the dead.

Also worth noting is corner-case utility with Entomb in the event you want to draw more cards. Assuming you’re able to draw a boatload of cards and can’t hit a Children to enable that line of play, you will likely hit at least one Entomb that will allow you to bin a Children from your deck and into your library. Then you bring it back, sacrifice it and draw plenty more cards than you may know what to do with. The disturbing synergy these cards have together makes for a very difficult task when trying to beat this deck, although that’s not actually as hard as one may think. It’s quite possible that Jacob and others playing this deck were the beneficiaries of good match-ups and an event with slower and more generalized hate in Rest in Peace and Deathrite Shaman, but those cards just cannot stop instant-speed recursion.

But there are cards that can, and there’s no denying that a shift in graveyard hate might be in the works to combat a deck like this from getting out of control. Surgical Extraction for instance is an option when trying to stop combo creatures from entering the battlefield on a whim. And while this particular deck can technically go the combo route if it wants to by winning with Tendrils, that line actually takes some setting up to do in the event the primary plan fails.

Playing the appropriate hate can neuter this deck from consistently winning the way it normally does. I understand that it also runs discard and the ability to cripple an opponent’s hand before deciding to plop a Griselbrand into play, but it’s sometimes not that simple. Now, some people may disagree with that and that’s fine. However the sample size we’re dealing with here with a more refined list is relatively small. I just think looking at all angles of how the deck attacks and how to beat it is critical in understanding its strengths and weaknesses. At the moment, though, it doesn’t look like the “Tin Fins” menace is going anywhere soon.

Goryo's Vengeance

Creatures and spells just keep getting dumber and dumber as time goes on, don’t they? Remember when Balduvian Horde was a thirty-five dollar card and just too powerful for its own good? I sure do. But times have changed and this isn’t your momma’s Legacy format – no, this is a format where you have to be readily prepared to encounter something like a deck Tin Fins brings to the table or risk being wiped off the Top Eight chatter in an event quickly. I mean, how can you realistically expect to beat a deck like this if you’re unprepared? People these days just want to do the most broken things imaginable, and that’s honestly a beautiful thing. It’s what makes this format so incredibly fun!

Now I have no problems turning creatures sideways because that’s what I love to do best. However, I have a strong love for putting things onto the battlefield for way under their cost with something like Show and Tell and Shallow Grave. It’s no surprise to me that cards like this hail from an era where being able to cheat things into play was a rarity, but it’s an unsettling thought when you see ridiculously overpowered creatures like Griselbrand somehow, someway seeing print and cruising to big finishes all over the world. People honestly aren’t dumb, and with the Age of Information at full force it won’t be long until someone else finds some sort of old and obscure card to break with full, instantaneous access to every card ever printed.

I mentioned this in a previous article that older and more obscure cards can potentially rise in price at a moment’s notice with the competitive circuit at an all-time high. So unlikely as it may be, don’t be surprised if you wake up tomorrow morning and somehow see Lake of the Dead at twenty-five dollars sold out at every online vendor in America. That’s the point we’re at right now, and the format is fair game all across the board.

A deck like Tin Fins surely has a place in the upper-echelon of decks currently in Legacy, which I think is a healthy thing. It’s nice to see a rogue creation (that has already existed for some time now) find its way into the national spotlight. Being able to draw cards is always a player’s best wishes, and with a card like Griselbrand continuing to evolve the meta in and of itself, one has to wonder if the flying demon will ever see the axe. There was a huge debate of epic proportions about the potentially inevitable banning of Show and Tell as a result of Griselbrand’s printing when it happened, but that kind of died down a bit once cards like Enter the Infinite and Omniscience starting winning games by enabling you to play your cards for free.

Griselbrand might not do that outright, but there’s no denying that drawing your deck can be awe-inspiring from an opponent staring at you holding a stack of cards in your hand that you can actually use to kill them with. You either love or hate Griselbrand, but you can’t take away from the fact it’s arguably the most powerful creature ever printed.

Will its reign over Legacy continue? That remains to be seen…

2 thoughts on “The Cutting Room Floor: Griselbanned?”

  1. Excellent article as always! I think that if there are any bans to come out, Entomb would once again return to the banned list since Griselbrand being on the field isn’t the problem, it’s Griselbrand being on the field turns 1-2 that is where it becomes problematic. I see it similar to the banning of Bloodbraid Elf or Seething Song in modern recently: It’s not the power that seems to be banned out, it’s the engine.

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